Federal judge in South Dakota rules in favor of the freedom to marry

Today, January 12, United States District Court Judge Karen E. Schreier ruled in favor of the freedom to marry in South Dakota, declaring the state's ban on marriage between same-sex couples unconstitutional.

The ruling was in the case Rosenbrahn v. Daugaard, which was filed in May of 2014 by private lawyers with National Center for Lesbian Rights as co-counsel on behalf of six South Dakota couples who are either unmarried or who have been legally married in another state. The lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of a discriminatory state constitutional amendment in South Dakota that only respects marriages between one man and one woman, stating that it violates the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantees to equal protection.

The lead plaintiffs in the case are Nancy and Jennie Rosenbrahn. Also represented are Jeremy Coller and Clay Schweitzer; Lynn and Monica Serling-Swank; Krystal Cosby and Kaitlyn Hoerner; Barbara and Ashley Wright; and Greg Kniffen and Mark Church.

Judge Schreier wrote today:

In Loving, the Supreme Court addressed a traditionally accepted
definition of marriage that prohibited Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving from
marrying. Because Virginia’s laws deprived that couple of their fundamental
right to marriage, the Court struck down those laws. Little distinguishes this
case from Loving. Plaintiffs have a fundamental right to marry. South Dakota
law deprives them of that right solely because they are same-sex couples and
without sufficient justification. Accordingly, it is
ORDERED that plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment (Docket 20) is
granted, and defendants’ motion for summary judgment (Docket 43) is denied. 

In Loving, the Supreme Court addressed a traditionally accepted definition of marriage that prohibited Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving from marrying. Because Virginia’s laws deprived that couple of their fundamental right to marriage, the Court struck down those laws. Little distinguishes this case from Loving. Plaintiffs have a fundamental right to marry. South Dakota law deprives them of that right solely because they are same-sex couples and without sufficient justification.

Evan Wolfson, Founder and President of Freedom to Marry, said:

Today’s ruling out of South Dakota affirms what nearly every court in the past year has held: loving and committed same-sex couples are guaranteed the freedom to marry by the U.S. Constitution. Now is the time for the Supreme Court to take up a case and end marriage discrimination once and for all.

The order today was stayed pending appeal. Read the full decision here.

Read more about litigation in South Dakota here.